Could you explain what is a difference between readable vs legible?

Which should I use when I want to say "This diagram is easily readable/legible" while meaning - "It is very easy to read and understand meaning of this diagram"?


Dictionaries usually give these as synonyms, but there is a nuance: legible tends to refer only to the presentation, e.g. penmanship, while readable is broader. If what I'm looking at is a hard-to-read scrawl, that's illegible; if it's nicely typed but the grammar and punctuation are all wrong, such that it's hard for me to understand, that's unreadable.

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    Just to add a bit more perspective. A piece of writing may not be readable, even if the writing is legible, and the grammar, punctuation, spelling etc. are all correct. In the context of novels, technical articles, readability also includes the smooth transitions of ideas across sentences, abstraction of details, and writing style. This again maybe relative to an age of language, or maturity of readers in the subject. Eg. A contemporary writer's work maybe more readable than Shakespeare or Dickens. Popular science articles maybe be more readable for laymen, but not so for a researcher. – karthik Feb 16 '12 at 20:07
  • So if a headline is difficult to read because it uses all caps but correct grammar and punctuation then it is said to be illegible? Even if each individual letter is clear, but as a whole it is strenuous for our brain to understand? – bernk Jan 23 '13 at 18:33
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    @bernk, that might call for a different word than either of these. I think most people would agree that all-caps is legible -- but harder to read than mixed-case. I'm not sure what word would work best there (you could ask :-) ) – Monica Cellio Jan 23 '13 at 18:38
  • @bernk, I’d say that’s either straining or just plain hard to read, rather than unreadable or illegible. A similar situation is with Textura and Fraktur lettering: even when the writing is excellent and the lettering is impeccable, it is still a slower and more straining read than Roman type. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 5 '13 at 22:26

Both legible and readable have sense of "clear enough to read".

Her handwriting was clearly legible.
The figures should be clearly readable

But, readable also may mean "easy, interesting and enjoyable to read".


Legibility is about how easy it is to distinguish individual elements such as letters.

Readability is about how easily blocks of elements—such as paragraphs—are understood.

Source 1

Source 2 provides a picture of less-legible, more-readable text, and the opposite.

Source 3

readable but illegible

In the case of diagrams the same idea holds. Illegible could be due to smudges or mis-printed type. Unreadable could be due to a flowchart where the organisation of the elements is confusing.

not illegible but definitely not readable!


If you cannot understand what is written though it is clearly written/typed it is incomprehensible (as in you cannot understand it). Legible means that you can read it and illegible means that it is so badly written/scribbled that one cannot read the words at all. Those are two very different situations.

  • What about readable, though? – user867 Aug 28 '13 at 1:12

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